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D&D 5E My critic on VRGtR

Here is my take on VRGtR.

Through your read, keep in mind the following: “I consider every gamers’ points of view. Young and Old. Traditionalists and Modernists alike.”

Part 1 Lineages

Although I much prefer “races” I don’t mind the new lineage as I still consider it “optional”, the floating +2/+1 will be fixed (arbitrarily) for each lineage.

Dhampir: What is that? Don’t care and this should have been an NPC option. Ravenloft is about mortals and mainly human characters facing monsters, not being a monster yourself. And again, we have another lineage with dark vision. In a Ravenloft game, the dark should be scary and avoided at all costs. I do understand the fun in playing a Blade like character but still… In other settings, this lineage is as good as any, depending on the setting and the table.

Hexblood: Again, just like the Dhampir. A no go for me in Ravenloft, but in other setting it would do the trick. The main problem is that their powers come from the Hags. I know of no one that will freely gives that kind of powers for free without a heavy costs at some further point in time. The transformation into a Hag should not be something that the character has a say. Just like the warlock is beholden to a patron, the Hexblood is beholden to the Hag that gave the powers. At some point, the hags will ask for a payback and the character will become a hag. Consequences matter in many games. This lineage is best left for one shot campaigns but not for long ones. Ho and again, dark vision…

The Reborn: Now this is the gem of the lineage. This one is great in Ravenloft and even better in any other settings/campaigns. In fact, a whole group of this can spring a lot of surprises and plot twists. You awake in an abandoned laboratory, you remember dying at the hands of… other like you are also waking up on a stone slab like yours…



Part Two: The Dark Gifts

The Dark Gifts are the second best thing in the book. Of limited use in general campaign but still with a bit of twisting these could even be incorporated into other settings. Instead of mist walking why not say “planes’ walking”? These can open up so many possibilities, good and bad (the last in a fun sense). I especially like Symbiote and Watchers but they are all great! If anything, I would have liked to have had a bit more of them.



Part Three: The classes. (Or should I say subclasses?)

The College of Spirit

The college of spirit is meh… I could have had done without that one. A bard is an entertainer, if anything, I would have prefer to have seen a rogue with some of these powers. A half caster with these little powers would have liven up the rogue class (at la :Midnight Texas if you get what I mean). Again, bards are entertainers, not spiritualists… Don’t get me wrong, I love bards but this subclass do not fit them.

Warlock: The Undead

We had the undying in the SCaG, it seems that Liches and other immoral… Immortals are competing against each other for the attention of the warlock class. Although the subclass in itself is ok. I feel that something else could have been done. Warlock of the Dark Power?



Part 4 The Backgrounds

Again the third best thing in the book. These are really nice. Especially the Horror ones. The Haunted one is simply a reprint but the investigator is actually something good and versatile enough to be incorporated into any campaign. Everything in that section is usable, generic enough that it can be used in any campaign and specific enough that it can enhance the Ravenloft experience. The trinket section is ok, I guess…

Part 5, Creating Domains of Dread

This is the best of the best. This will help a lot of DM (even myself) to make domains but even create better villains. Everything in that section is useful. This section is the real gem of the book. And yet, it only goes from page 39 to 60. A bit more of this would have been welcome as Disaster, Occult, Psychological and Slasher horror could have benefited from the same treatment the other genres received. But again, this is really a great read, source and inspiration part. Just this would be worth the entire book along with its contender…



Part 5 The Domains of Ravenloft

This part is ok. Some of the treatment and gender swapping of some Dark Lords get on my nerves but still… This part is ok but barely for the following reasons.

Maps are too small. Not everyone have access to internet or printers and the maps could have been bigger for ease of play. Or a folded detachable folded map could have been made. With a 113 pages, this section is way too short for my tastes. It makes a scant overview of some of the domains and an extremely short descriptions of a few others. Still, this will be useful but a DM will have a lot of work ahead of him/her as not everything is covered and a lot is to guess (unless you have the old books…) and here I don’t talk about NPC stats but more about better descriptions and political intrigues, motivations etc…

The important NPC section is strangely too developed for my tastes, some page count could have been removed from these to better describe the domains… This section could easily have had double the current page count.



Part 6 The recommendations and how to run horror adventures…

Not a bad part, but it does not get far enough in the horror genre. The only needed advice is if your players are ready to play in a horror game, discuss the implications but at the same time, do not over do it. Know your players and do not cross their line. In these simple lines, I have resumed quite a big body of text. And at the same time, it still does not get far enough in the horror genre. The only real good things in here are the haunted traps and the Survivor character options.



Part 7 The House of Lament

This is a big contender for the Best of the best part of the book. This is one of the best adventure I have seen in a long time in the Ravenloft setting. It is on par with CoS (but will run way faster). A really good adventure with a lot to do and to miss.



And Finally, the Monsters of Ravenloft

The fourth best thing in the book. No complain save that monsters do not have alignment but that is a pet peeve of mine and it should not deter anyone from using the monsters.



Final words

VRGtR is a very good book but it does not go far enough. We had no need of additional subclasses and lineages at this point in time. The page count for these would have been better used in other areas of the book.

This is supposed to be a horror setting but it is really hard to get afraid of a werewolf when your character has 100 hp, a magical sword and cantrips to affect it. I would have liked to see optional rules for making monsters stronger such as a werewolf is immune to all damage save those coming from silvered weapon. Magic and magic weapons do only half damage etc… Imagine the horror on the face of your player when his magical two handed sword does almost nothing and the wizards’ fire bolt spell barely does anything to the werewolf. But we have magic! Would they scream. Or that on a successful hit, an undead doing necrotic damage heals itself of the same amount of damage. So many rules could have been incorporated instead of new lineages and subclasses.

Again, Ravenloft is about horror and horror is about fear. I do not 15 pages telling me that horror can be unsettling for some people. Put a warning on the cover. Mature Audience Only! I am old enough to judge by myself what is good or bad for my campaign and so are my players. Heck, even teenagers are able to judge by themselves. A rating of 13 is on most horror movies. Put that on the book and go on. This page count would help in putting even more good stuff in the book.



Do I like the book. Yes. But it could have gone much much farther that it did.
 

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TrueAlphaGamer

Truly a Gamer
Outside of the monsters, character options, and maybe the adventure, I found the book quite dull. The domains weren't really described in enough detail for me to scavenge anything from them, and I'm not too enthusiastic of having to use Zaroff von Patronymic's Domain of Universal Pictures Horror Monsters as a setting.

The domain creation seemed fine, but it lacks depth. It doesn't give good enough advice on actually formulating and using specific horror genres. I think one line in particular really stuck out, in the cosmic horror section:
The genre has a history of framing marginalized demographics as monstrous and stigmatizing mental illness. Be aware and avoid those tropes.
Like, okay? What information does this really give me? How does it empower me to see and act upon those kinds of tropes? I suppose the random generation tables work well enough to form ideas, but the entire section was so barren in giving the DM real tools. You'd just be better served by reading actual fiction based in those genres. Heck, the Monsterhearts rulebook gives better and more insightful information on how to run horror.

I'm surprised people hold it in such high regard, but maybe I'm just too cynical.
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Thoughts on the Survivor rules?
They’re quite good! In a nutshell, survivors are simple NPC statblocks that come in 4 varieties; very similar to 1st-level Sidekicks. However, instead of gaining levels in a simplified version of one of the core 4 classes as Sidekicks do, Survivors only gain an extra hit die and Max HP increase (rolled only; no option to take the average is presented), and can pick one of a small handful of new abilities when they level up. They’re very simple abilities, ranging from “gain one additional 1st level spell slot and learn one 1st level spell from the cleric/wizard list” to “you can use your reaction to take a hit for someone within 5 feet of you, and reduce the damage if you’re using a shield” to “when you fail a saving throw you can scream to add a bonus to the roll that can potentially turn it into a success, but the scream can be heard from up to 300 feet away.” They also only go up to 3rd level by default.

The book suggests that Survivors are intended to be used temporarily; either for short one-off adventures, or to allow the players to portray doomed NPCs in nightmare sequences, flashbacks, and the like during longer campaigns. However, there’s no reason you couldn’t run a full campaign with Survivor PCs, if you really want to make the PCs feel powerless.
 

Outside of the monsters, character options, and maybe the adventure, I found the book quite dull. The domains weren't really described in enough detail for me to scavenge anything from them, and I'm not too enthusiastic of having to use Zaroff von Patronymic's Domain of Universal Pictures Horror Monsters as a setting.

The domain creation seemed fine, but it lacks depth. It doesn't give good enough advice on actually formulating and using specific horror genres. I think one line in particular really stuck out, in the cosmic horror section:

Like, okay? What information does this really give me? How does it empower me to see and act upon those kinds of tropes? I suppose the random generation tables work well enough to form ideas, but the entire section was so barren in giving the DM real tools. You'd just be better served by reading actual fiction based in those genres. Heck, the Monsterhearts rulebook gives better and more insightful information on how to run horror.

I'm surprised people hold it in such high regard, but maybe I'm just too cynical.
I did say that the book did not went far enough, but you have to keep in mind the more recent audience that do not have the older material. The current iteration does a decent job, but a lot more could have been added if they did not add lineages and subclasses. We have enough of these as it is already and I truly feel that almost any concepts can be done with what we already have. But I still like the book beside its flaws.
 

They’re quite good! In a nutshell, survivors are simple NPC statblocks that come in 4 varieties; very similar to 1st-level Sidekicks. However, instead of gaining levels in a simplified version of one of the core 4 classes as Sidekicks do, Survivors only gain an extra hit die and Max HP increase (rolled only; no option to take the average is presented), and can pick one of a small handful of new abilities when they level up. They’re very simple abilities, ranging from “gain one additional 1st level spell slot and learn one 1st level spell from the cleric/wizard list” to “you can use your reaction to take a hit for someone within 5 feet of you, and reduce the damage if you’re using a shield” to “when you fail a saving throw you can scream to add a bonus to the roll that can potentially turn it into a success, but the scream can be heard from up to 300 feet away.” They also only go up to 3rd level by default.

The book suggests that Survivors are intended to be used temporarily; either for short one-off adventures, or to allow the players to portray doomed NPCs in nightmare sequences, flashbacks, and the like during longer campaigns. However, there’s no reason you couldn’t run a full campaign with Survivor PCs, if you really want to make the PCs feel powerless.
My thoughts exactly. I would have liked to see more rules such as this one to "defang" (pun intended) the characters.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
My thoughts exactly. I would have liked to see more rules such as this one to "defang" (pun intended) the characters.
It’s a tricky line to walk, right? On the one hand, options are always good, and options for significantly de-powered PCs would be highly appropriate for a horror toolbox book. On the other hand, how far can you take it before it feels like “why are we playing D&D instead of CoC in a fantasy setting?” I think the Survivor rules strike a nice balance. A great option for one-offs, the idea to use them to play out flashbacks and nightmares is awesome, and if you want super low-power PC options, they fit the bill.

I certainly wouldn’t mind more such options, but there’s the question of what to cut for them. Personally I’d be fine with more stuff along those lines taking the place of, like, the spirit bard. But new subclasses sell books, so I understand why they wouldn’t want to do that. The domains are already trying to squeeze a lot of information into very small page counts, I wouldn’t want them to be cut down. The travelers in the mists section feels perfect to me, enough to give you some ideas without taking up a ton of real-estate.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Part 7 The House of Lament

This is a big contender for the Best of the best part of the book. This is one of the best adventure I have seen in a long time in the Ravenloft setting. It is on par with CoS (but will run way faster). A really good adventure with a lot to do and to miss.
I love the concept of the adventure, as well as the structure with the seances and the ambient and awakened hauntings. But I don’t like the actual plot of the adventure very much. The background manages to be unnecessarily convoluted and disappointingly shallow at the same time, and the three different haunt options have the same issue for me that the four villain options for Dragon Heist did; namely that it sounds cool on paper, but the actual differences are minor enough that it doesn’t actually seem replayable enough to want to do again with another haunt. So two thirds of the content just ends up getting wasted.

I think what I’ll probably do is steal the map and the seance/haunt structure, but change the story pretty much completely.
 

TrueAlphaGamer

Truly a Gamer
I did say that the book did not went far enough, but you have to keep in mind the more recent audience that do not have the older material. The current iteration does a decent job, but a lot more could have been added if they did not add lineages and subclasses. We have enough of these as it is already and I truly feel that almost any concepts can be done with what we already have. But I still like the book beside its flaws.
Well this was my introduction to the Ravenloft beyond CoS, as I have little experience with the older material. As it stands, I was unimpressed (as mentioned earlier), and that might just be because I don't have much particular interest in that lore, but also maybe because elements of horror in media have come a long way since the inception of Strahd and Barovia. I think newer players have a lot more options in terms of media, so it makes sense to judge the Domains based on other contemporary ideas/settings people might be familiar with. How well do the domains evoke fear compared to the scenery/set-pieces of Berserk, or Legacy of Kain, or whatever else? Since you're familiar with the settings, how well did you think WotC did in integrating/updating Ravenloft to the modern era?
 

Like, okay? What information does this really give me? How does it empower me to see and act upon those kinds of tropes?
What would you prefer, a detailed listing of minority groups typically stigmatized in this way? It would be immediately outdated and unhelpful and however well done. Seems like criticism for the sake of criticism rather than something you've actually considered. Also, dude, I dunno if you've ever read Lovecraft, but let me give you a rundown on all the minority groups he stigmatized:

Literally every single one which wasn't White, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant.

I'm not kidding. He even presents Scotsmen and Irish people in terms pretty similar to black people and asian people, and all of them he presents as monstrous. He even kinda nails small-town East Coast folk who presumably are WASPs, but are poor, and poorly-spoken, so obviously creepy to good old HP (who, let's be real, would be writing creepypasta on 4chan, if not 8kun, were he around today, and utterly obscure - of course horror would be pretty different without him, and D&D and RPGs would be missing a bunch of stuff).

I'm not sure what's so difficult - it's merely a straightforward exhortation to not fall into the same trap as HP Lovecraft, and present everyone different to you or mentally ill as dangerous and/or actual monsters.

Also re: Monsterhearts, I just don't agree, having read it, and I feel like you're bullshitting for effect there, and trusting that most of us haven't.
I'm surprised people hold it in such high regard, but maybe I'm just too cynical.
I mean, your post comes across as a bit try-hard cynical yes (esp. with the Spy avatar, the TF2 character of choice for poseurs - not saying your one but if you've played TF2 a lot you know this is true). Like, I'm sure you were honestly not excited because you don't like the broadly Gothic vibe of the monsters in Ravenloft, but it feels like you're sort of looking around for objections to the material in general, and the only ones you're finding are kind of a reach.

Is it really aimed at a totally modern post-creepypasta audience? Nah. Could there be more advice on specific kinds of horror - I think so. Is the overall advice, particularly the actual chapter on running horror (not the shorter horror-type rundowns) good? Yes, and I'd say, having read horror RPGs for 30 years, it's one of the best ones because the advice is largely straightforward and non-pretentious and easy to apply.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
It’s a tricky line to walk, right? On the one hand, options are always good, and options for significantly de-powered PCs would be highly appropriate for a horror toolbox book. On the other hand, how far can you take it before it feels like “why are we playing D&D instead of CoC in a fantasy setting?” I think the Survivor rules strike a nice balance. A great option for one-offs, the idea to use them to play out flashbacks and nightmares is awesome, and if you want super low-power PC options, they fit the bill.

I think one of the strengths of D&D and especially 5e is that it can do multiple genres and flavors decently without going bland. Most horror or dark fantasy RPGs deep dive into the genre and only work one way. With Ravenloft, they could have explored Ravenloft as Dark Heroic Fantasy, Dark Swords and Sorcery, Dark Grim Fantasy, Dark War Fantasy, and Dark Mythic Fantasy. By not offering the dial, they kind of fell into that trap they were trying to avoid.
 

TrueAlphaGamer

Truly a Gamer
What would you prefer, a detailed listing of minority groups typically stigmatized in this way? It would be immediately outdated and unhelpful and however well done. Seems like criticism for the sake of criticism rather than something you've actually considered. Also, dude, I dunno if you've ever read Lovecraft, but let me give you a rundown on all the minority groups he stigmatized:

Literally every single one which wasn't White, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant.

I'm not kidding. He even presents Scotsmen and Irish people in terms pretty similar to black people and asian people, and all of them he presents as monstrous. He even kinda nails small-town East Coast folk who presumably are WASPs, but are poor, and poorly-spoken, so obviously creepy to good old HP (who, let's be real, would be writing creepypasta on 4chan, if not 8kun, were he around today, and utterly obscure - of course horror would be pretty different without him, and D&D and RPGs would be missing a bunch of stuff).

I'm not sure what's so difficult - it's merely a straightforward exhortation to not fall into the same trap as HP Lovecraft, and present everyone different to you or mentally ill as dangerous and/or actual monsters.
I feel as though the advice of "don't be racist or bigoted when creating adventures" is somewhat self-explanatory. I don't read much Lovecraft, so I think a reader like me who has more modern sensibilities would just be left with more questions at that line.

The point about mental illness also seems peculiar in how brief it is. If it included commentary/revision on the DMG Madness rules, or something to that extent, I think it would be more helpful. Overall I was using it more as an example of how the book doesn't give as much in terms of deep advice on setting design.

Also re: Monsterhearts, I just don't agree, having read it, and I feel like you're bullshitting for effect there, and trusting that most of us haven't.
Yeah, well, that's just, like, your opinion, man. Maybe it's just because the system is better built around horror themes, but I found the DM advice there was as good if not better than what Van Richten's gives.
 


It’s a tricky line to walk, right? On the one hand, options are always good, and options for significantly de-powered PCs would be highly appropriate for a horror toolbox book. On the other hand, how far can you take it before it feels like “why are we playing D&D instead of CoC in a fantasy setting?” I think the Survivor rules strike a nice balance. A great option for one-offs, the idea to use them to play out flashbacks and nightmares is awesome, and if you want super low-power PC options, they fit the bill.

I certainly wouldn’t mind more such options, but there’s the question of what to cut for them. Personally I’d be fine with more stuff along those lines taking the place of, like, the spirit bard. But new subclasses sell books, so I understand why they wouldn’t want to do that. The domains are already trying to squeeze a lot of information into very small page counts, I wouldn’t want them to be cut down. The travelers in the mists section feels perfect to me, enough to give you some ideas without taking up a ton of real-estate.
Agreed. And as you said, for a book of this magnitude, the page "count" is a bit low. The two best setting they have printed so far are Wildemount and Ravnica both around 300+ pages. The 256 page mark is a bit low for a setting book. These 46 pages missing means a lot was left off. Hell, I count with the inside covers, at least 6 black pages that could have been used for tables and/or index. But at this point, this is a bit on the nitpicking side.
 

Agreed. And as you said, for a book of this magnitude, the page "count" is a bit low. The two best setting they have printed so far are Wildemount and Ravnica both around 300+ pages. The 256 page mark is a bit low for a setting book. These 46 pages missing means a lot was left off. Hell, I count with the inside covers, at least 6 black pages that could have been used for tables and/or index. But at this point, this is a bit on the nitpicking side.
I have to admit I do find it deeply bizarre that Ravnica got 300+ pages. It could fit into fewer far more easily than Ravenloft.
 

I love the new bard. Bards are historians, not just entertainers. When those rules were introduced, I used them to create a leader type for orcs in Eberron, that called upon the spirits of their ancestors to help the warriors in the area fight better (among other things)....
I would way more have like for them to have created an entirely new archetype, the shaman with the spiritualist in there than the bard. Being an historian does not make you a spirit talker all of a sudden. A shaman type archetype would have been way better for that. And no, I do not hate bards.
 

I have to admit I do find it deeply bizarre that Ravnica got 300+ pages. It could fit into fewer far more easily than Ravenloft.
Fully agree on that. But Ravnica did brought new rules and idea on how to run organisations and these rules were great! And I mean very great. I use them for just about any organisations in any settings. The fact that they went with full pages for each organizations was a good choice and gave us a lot to work with. I do not play in Ravnica, but the book was really inspiring. Just as Wildemount struck a nice chord in my heart (and no I was not, and still not is a fan of CR) as the setting was really good. Enough for me to consider buying the previous setting Lore something...

Edit: Ravnica is at 256 pages, but its add on maps bring about 30 additional pages. Yes I bought that one. Could not resist.
 
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Zaukrie

New Publisher
I would way more have like for them to have created an entirely new archetype, the shaman with the spiritualist in there than the bard. Being an historian does not make you a spirit talker all of a sudden. A shaman type archetype would have been way better for that. And no, I do not hate bards.
So just call this bard a shaman.......that's pretty much what I did.
 

So just call this bard a shaman.......that's pretty much what I did.
It is a way of doing it. But the game lacks a true shaman archetype. A fighter can do a decent barbarian, it does not mean that we should throw the archetype down the drain. Same with the shaman. Somehow, druid and cleric do not fill the bill for the shaman...
 

Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
The point about mental illness also seems peculiar in how brief it is. If it included commentary/revision on the DMG Madness rules, or something to that extent, I think it would be more helpful. Overall I was using it more as an example of how the book doesn't give as much in terms of deep advice on setting design.
This I think is a fair critique. I haven't read the book myself yet, but if that's literally all the book says about it (less than a sentence, a clause really) than it's woefully insufficient. Cosmic Horror is built from the ground up around a definition of "madness" that, at best, makes light of a thing that for many people is quite serious, and at worst, perpetuates negative, harmful stereotypes about people living with such challenges as schizophrenia, paranoia, or delusions.

I think it's possible to play with the underlying tensions and horror that comes from intellectual and spiritual degradation and corruption without falling back on tired "madness" tropes, or something as asinine as rolling on a table of "mental illnesses".
 

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